Softball Winners' circle
Editor's Note: Capsule previews for all L-L League teams appear on Page C4. BY DAVE BYRNE, Sports Writer
Several seasons back, a Manheim Central softball player joked that Manheim was becoming known as a softball school with a pretty good football team.
With back-to-back appearances in the PIAA Class AAA softball championship game and Eastern final, that's not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Central is 52-9 over the last two years with two District Three AAA titles, and doesn't appear to be falling off that pace any time soon.
The defending L-L champion Barons are a favorite to repeat the feat, as well as produce another deep postseason run.
Still, they are but one of many L-L softball squads with designs on glory this year.
Manheim's Section Three mates Donegal and Lampeter-Strasburg will pressure the Barons in a very competitive section with Elco vying to join the party.
Nor does Section Three have an exclusive title on heated competition.
Section Two, with Solanco winning five straight titles and eight of 10, has become a three-team dance with returning L-L runner-up Conestoga Valley joining perennial contender Elizabethtown. Cocalico and Ephrata have designs on the rebuilding Bears.
Pequea Valley has won four of the last six Section Four crowns at the expense of 12-time titlist Annville-Cleona.
They both feel the hot breath of a resurgent Lancaster Mennonite, a Columbia side one year removed from the section title and a loaded Lancaster Catholic.
The "safest" section may well be Section One, where Warwick has won eight straight championships -- nine out of 10 -- and appears to be a notch above the pack led by Penn Manor and Hempfield.
Big picture, Warrior coach Don Miller agrees. "There are a lot of really good teams league wide," said Miller. "Section One has improved a great deal.
"As the season goes along, things will shake themselves out," said Miller, speaking specifically of his team. He could've just as easily been talking about the league as well.
Softball success starts in the circle. Entering the 2012 season, as Manheim searched to replace Alexa Campbell, who had pitched them to the state title game, coach Steve Ginder saw that as the Barons' biggest question mark.
Junior Sara McKee answered any and all questions as, in her first full varsity season, she went 19-3 with a 1.21 earned run average, striking out 257 batters in 157 innings and earning Second-Team All State honors.
Back for her senior campaign, McKee is joined by five more returning starters: first baseman Racheal Clippinger, an All-State Honorable Mention and section All-Star; Aerika High, a section All-Star at shortstop; two-year infield starter Abby Hahn; catcher Miranda Becker and centerfielder Katelyn Grazan.
Grazan is the only returnee from an outfield where she was bookended by First-Team All-State honorees Brittiny Griffith and Ali Morton.
Filling the outfield void created by the graduation of Griffith and Morton and finding a replacement for Erika Campbell at second base are the prime concerns for Ginder.
And while senior Miranda Becker, who caught as a freshman, takes over catching duties from since-graduated Katie Van Blargan, replacing Van Blargan's leadership will not be so easy. McKee, High and Clippinger are prime candidates.
"If we can play together," Ginder observed in an e-mail, "(we) hope to make a run at districts and possibly states."
Bet your stadium blanket on that.
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